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Small business Tip of the Week: Customer service commandments

By Victoria Advocate
Dec. 16, 2010 at 6:16 a.m.


NEED MORE HELP?

Contact the University of Houston-Victoria Small Business Development Center, 3402 N. Ben Wilson St., at 361-575-8944, or visit www.sbdc.uhv.edu.

We all know the story. It costs five times as much to bring in a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.

When people become your customer, they want to be loyal. So why do they leave?

Most of the time, they leave because of small oversights and a lack of attention to plain, old-fashioned customer service.

Following is a list of customer service commandments - tips you should follow to retain people who buy your products or services.

1. Know who is boss

You are in business to service customer needs, and you can only do that if you know what it is your customers want. When you truly listen to your customers, they let you know what they want and how you can provide good service. Never forget that the customer pays our salary and makes your job possible.

2. Be a good listener

Take the time to identify customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is really saying. Listen to their words, tone of voice, body language, and most importantly, how they feel. Effective listening and undivided attention are important.

3. Identify and anticipate needs

Customers don't buy products or services. They buy good feelings and solutions to problems. Most customer needs are emotional rather than logical. The more you know your customers, the better you become at anticipating their needs. Communicate regularly so you are aware of problems or upcoming needs.

4. Make customers feel important and appreciated

Treat them as individuals. Always use their name and find ways to compliment them, but be sincere. People value sincerity. It creates good feeling and trust. Think about ways to generate good feelings about doing business with you. Customers are very sensitive and know whether you really care about them. Thank them every time you get a chance.

5. Help customers understand your systems

Your organization may have the world's best systems for getting things done, but if customers don't understand them, they can get confused, impatient and angry. Take time to explain how your systems work and how they simplify transactions. Be careful that your systems don't reduce the human element of your organization.

6. Appreciate the power of "Yes"

Always look for ways to help your customers. When they have a request (as long as it is reasonable) tell them you can do it. Figure out how afterward. Look for ways to make doing business with you easy. Always do what you say you are going to do.

7. Know how to apologize

When something goes wrong, apologize. It's easy and customers like it. The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always win. Deal with problems immediately, and let customers know what you have done. Make it simple for customers to complain. Value their complaints. As much as we dislike it, it gives us an opportunity to improve. Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable.

8. Give more than expected

Because the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy, think of ways to put you above the competition. Consider the following:

What can you give customers that they cannot get elsewhere?

What can you do to follow-up and thank people even when they don't buy?

What can you give customers that is totally unexpected?

9. Get regular feedback

Encourage and welcome suggestions about how you could improve. There are several ways in which you can find out what customers think and feel about your services.

10. Treat employees well

Employees are your internal customers and need a regular dose of appreciation. Thank them and find ways to let them know how important they are. Treat your employees with respect, and chances are they will have a higher regard for customers. Appreciation stems from the top. Treating customers and employees well is equally important.

Customer service is an integral part of your job and should not be seen as an extension of it. A company's most vital asset is its customers. Without them, you would not and could not exist in business.

When you satisfy your customers, they not only help you grow by continuing to do business with you, but recommend you to friends and associates.

Kacey Lindemann Butler is a senior business adviser with the University of Houston-Victoria Small Business Development Center. She works in the office that serves Gonzales and Karnes counties.

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